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Drug Trafficking Safe Harbor Elimination Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Virginia for yielding. I am pleased to join with my friend, the distinguished chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in supporting this bipartisan bill. Chairman Smith has been a leader on this issue, and we worked together on it in a prior Congress.

This bill targets a narrow loophole in the Controlled Substances Act which has been exploited by drug traffickers, and the case that particularly brings home this problem is the case that the chairman mentioned.

In 1998 two individuals conspired with Colombian drug cartels to traffic 2,000 kilos of cocaine from South America to Europe. They met in Miami to work out the details of this $100 million transaction. In 2005, following an extensive Federal investigation, they were convicted of drug trafficking and conspiracy and were sentenced to around 24 years in prison, each.

However, in 2007 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned these convictions. The court found that the way Congress had worded the conspiracy portion of the Controlled Substances Act meant that the conspiracy had to involve trafficking drugs to or from the United States, a condition that was not satisfied in that case.

The result of the court's finding is that, in the United States, a drug trafficker can plan and coordinate the shipment of millions of dollars of drugs between our friends and allies yet be beyond the reach of our Nation's laws.

Mr. Speaker, I think this is clearly wrong and not the intent of Congress in passing the Controlled Substances Act. H.R. 313 would close that loophole. In doing so, it doesn't break new ground. Many criminal laws currently on our books have extra territorial reach, including some portions of the Controlled Substances Act itself.

Drug trafficking, by its very nature, is a global problem, and the laws and treaties that fight it must take that into consideration. When we look at the damage the drug cartels have inflicted in countries like Colombia and Mexico, not to mention the devastation their trade causes in the United States, the case for this bill becomes quite clear.

The bill is narrowly crafted to apply only to those who conspire to traffic or distribute narcotics. And with the adoption of the manager's amendment in the Judiciary Committee, it was narrowed further to address concerns that conspiracy charges could apply to only those who sought to possess narcotics overseas. The bill will not open anyone to prosecution for simply discussing the possession of narcotics overseas. It deals only with commerce, not simply speech--the trafficking and distribution of drugs.

Once again, I want to thank Chairman Smith for his leadership on this important bill, and I urge that we pass the measure.


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